Current competition between countries over resources and trade routes in the Arctic.

The Canadian foreign minister, Peter Mackay said “Look, this isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.'” 1 Mackay’s remark was aimed at the Russia. Russia placed a Russian flag on the sea floor beneath the North Pole, and it indicates how much sovereignty of North and Arctic is important now and future.2

Arctic is generally known as cold place to live. Arctic has thick glaciers are all through the year, and it seems like barren land. Then how could Arctic became a conflict area? It might sound weird, but nations around the Arctic believe that melting ice due to the global warming will bring trillions of dollars in new wealth.3 Nations around the Arctic are expecting that ice melts will make oil and gas exploration easier than before and open new trade routes which can reduce the sailing time.4

Oil and gas are one of the biggest resources that human being use for various purposes in all over the world. Due to the importance of resources, there is oil-rich countries in the Middle East which can preserve their countries by only exporting oils. It shows how much natural resources are economically beneficial to countries. In case of Russia, 15% to 20% of their GDP comes from natural resources. 5 Also, US estimates that up to 15% of the world’s remaining oil, 20 % of liquefied natural gas, and 30% of natural gas deposits are stored in the Arctic seabed. 6 Even we don’t know exact amount of natural resources we use per year, we can assume that Arctic has huge amount of natural resources. In my opinion, if certain country could monopolize these resources, it definitely could effect on economics and also, could be used as politically. For example, if Russia take possessions of the Arctic, US will have hard time to touch on Russia’s actions such as Ukraine issues. The reason why is if I am a person in the Russia government, I would definitely use oil power as a wild card in every political issues. Such as threatening other countries that Russia will stop exporting oils and other natural resources and make oil price in the world increase massively. I believe it could be a wild card for any nations which obtain territorial rights of Arctic.

The other benefit of taking Arctic is the new trade route that will be made due to the ice melts. When we look the world map that is rectangle shaped, people might think North America, Asia, and Europe is pretty far away from each other. However, if we look close to the top side of the globe we can easily notice that each continents are not really far from the others. Last year, the northern sea route was open about 6 months and assume it will increase to 8 months within a decade so, the scientists assume that Arctic won’t have ice during the summer by 2030.7 It sounds awful in the aspect of environmental issues, however in economical view, Jong-Deog Kim, a division director at the South Korean Maritime Institute, said that the new route between Europe and Asia will account for 25% of all cargo traffic by 2030. 8 These conditions are all applied to the countries around the Arctic, and they could get benefit by reducing the trade routes. In addition to use the new routes, there should be no legal problem such as dominium of certain ocean. Currently, Russia and Norway submitted an extended continental shelf claim to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which claims certain natural resources of the seabed is theirs.9 If countries could prove that their continental shelf is lying on the respective resources, UNCLOS accepts that is belongs to those countries.10

The territorial conflict in Arctic seems a new version of cold war. Canada, Denmakr, US, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Russia are main countries that are trying to obtain benefit from Arctic and especially Russia is the most actively moving countries between these countries. Russia has 40 icebreakers and planning to build 11 more and China has interest in Arctic due to strategic issues.11 However, US has only 2 icebreakers when Russia is placing large-scale military exercise. 12

I believe other nations around the Arctic will act more actively to gain benefit from Arctic. This issue will probably become bigger than now as 2030 comes and ice melts. Some nations might form a military alliance to protect regions that they believe it belongs to them against others. Perhaps some continental shelf might be connected to the other nations so, it could be difficult to judge which country has authority to the resources and UN might make new laws about it. In my opinion, not only US but also other nations should actively react to the Russia’s action at least to make a balance of territorial rights on Arctic.

(I tried to upload the picture of Arctic, but I failed. Please look up the picture under the source that I wrote. It will help you to understand how the world looks like when we see at the Arctic side.)

Source: Graphic by Stephen Rountree at U.S. News and World Report,

  1. News Staff, “Arctic sovereignty an ‘important issue’: Harper.” CTV News, August 2, 2007. Accessed September 11, 2015.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Lynch, David, “Arctic Nations Joust But North Pole Payoff May Be Years Away.” Bloomberg Business, August 28, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2015.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Deahn, Andy, “Arctic Geopolitics: Future Conflict Beyond the Caspian.” Modern Diplomacy, September 4, 2015. Accessed September 12, 2015.
  6. Bender, Jeremy, “The US is upping its intelligence game in the Arctic.” Business Insider, September 8, 2015. Accessed September 12, 2015.
  7. Koranyi, Balazs, “Ice leves, rule changes to boost Arctic Northern sea route.” Reuters, May 29, 2013. Accessed September 13, 2015.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Foizee, Bahauddin, “Race to Arctic Oceanic Region.” Dhakacourier, August 27, 2015. Accessed September 13, 2015.
  10. Ibid.
  11. “Race for Arctic resources.” VOVworld, September 8, 2015. Accessed September 13, 2015.
  12. Ibid.

9 thoughts on “Current competition between countries over resources and trade routes in the Arctic.

  1. Thank you for your post on this topic. Before reading this post, I had not heard of this issue. I am surprised to learn that the Arctic has several resources of use to people. Before reading this post, I had thought the Arctic was composed of glaciers. I think it will be interesting to see how this progresses over the years since as the years go by ice will be melting as well. I wonder how the relationship among the countries who are near the Arctic will change throughout the years seeing as the Arctic has resources that many counties are interested in. The question I ask myself is how will the environmental impacts pose problems to all countries and how that will affect their economies?


    • Thank you for your comment and sorry for the late blog post. I was keep checking and fixing the Chicago style referencing. Anyway, back to the point.

      I also have same question as you. In my personal opinion, maybe the impact that the resources and new trade routes provide will be bigger than the US found gold mine in Alaska.

      One thing that I am worried about is Russia has advantage over Arctic now. They plugged in the flag under the Arctic and trying to exercise political leverage.

      It seems pretty dangerous situation to US and other nations around the Arctic.


  2. This is a very interesting topic indeed, I was not to familiar with it either. As the arctic becomes more explorable it will be interesting to see how countries will agree to new laws and regulations surrounding travel and resources, potentially creating a whole new set of problems with the nineteen basins making up the arctic region. I definitely agree Russia could use the oil rich Lomonosov ridge that they have claimed as a means of gaining leverage over a countries.


    • I don’t know when will the new law will be made, but definitely UN and other nations will upgrade the law from now about the dominium. China is also trying to join this conflict recently. I assume this conflict will become huge issue around 2030.


  3. It is very intriguing topic not only geopolitically but environmentally. Although, I think, the Arctic should remain a ‘global commons’ like the Antarctica, it seems impossible.
    In the article I read (which is written in Japanese), not only Northern countries but also China aims to have a influence on this region, because China at present is very limited to the sea territory. So, when the Arctic will be ‘open’ space, it is quite natural for China to foray.
    However, when the Arctic glacier melts, it is a very big geopolitical problem. Once Alfred Mahan or Mackinder analyzed the world geopolitically, it was a conventional wisdom that the Arctic was enclosed with ice and there was no possibility for Russia to advance through this region. This theory, in the future, will be changing, and this means that many countries, regardless the proximity to the Arctic, need to revise the geopolitical stratedy, which I think may become the genesis of war among nations.


  4. I feel this is a very interesting topic, but I feel like the governments need to take into consider what other effects this can have if they start drilling for oil, trying to mark this new territory, and using it for new trade routes.
    The environment needs to be something that needs to be taken into consideration. This is unexplored territory and know one knows exactly what they will find while there and if they hit oil before they think they will, there can be an oil spill which can have drastic effect on a place that already needs help saving. I believe the Arctic and its territory should be dealt as an international problem but different states should be figuring out how to help it and keep it the way it is and not destroy it more for more resources. Also if it becomes a place for more trade routes then more boats will be polluting the area which again is not good because global warming is occurring and states need to work together to lessen the effect we have on the globe.


  5. It is interesting that this issue does not get a lot of coverage. With the current issues between Russia and the U.S. this could be a hot topic in the coming decade. This also leads to the question about climate change. If there is so much money to be made by using these new areas then what is the incentive for a country like Russia to institute green policies. It seems like the opening of the arctic will only cause more conflict as everyone rushes to get a piece of it.


  6. While oil is certainly an important resource, the opening of more trade routes poses a longer lasting and more important global advantage. Oil is indeed finite and Russia is already feeling backlash from an oil dependent economy. What the Arctic opening up also allows easier access for the Russian Navy. More locations for ports become viable, and any attack on a port in the Arctic circle would be subject to hectic weather. Easier access to the sea can make Russia’s Navy more powerful, and more of a threat.


  7. Pingback: Why does ‘Shell’ exits from Arctic? | Int'l Conflict & Security (RPOS 386)

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